For years I’ve questioned the madness of businesses that attempt to gauge customer satisfaction by hiring secret shoppers. They have their arguments, of course, for doing what they do. They’re seeking unbiased and random feedback. They want to know who’s providing good service and who’s not. Okay. I understand wanting to know both those things, and I have a jones for data. But if you look at the best businesses, they’re able to discover this same information simply by communicating with current customers. Also, they use something that’s much more advanced—eyeballs and eardrums. That’s right, their leaders are present and able to observe and enforce the best customer service possible. There’s more to it, of course—things like treating employees how you want them to treat customers, things like training—oh, and a another little thing I like to call trust.
Mystery Shopping is a billion-dollar business rife with scams and untrained spies. I personally would never pay another company to spy on my workers. I don’t know who they’re sending in or why I should base my opinions of my employees on their experiences. For all I know, they could be making everything up—and there are plenty of workers out there who say that a secret shopper has nearly cost them their jobs by providing false information. Since secret shoppers are generally unemployed, un-vetted and untrained, why in the hell would I trust their evaluation over my own management team’s?
What happens, however, is that someone at the top decides that customer service is lacking, and rather than doing the hard work of building a workplace culture of excellent service with service standards and training, he or she sends in a team of secret shoppers and starts a regiment of punishment and reward. The workers are then on edge—as distrusted people generally are—and somehow either get inaccurately high or low scores. No one bothers to look into what really happened. They just trust the secret shopper who, incidentally, could be an outright liar or criminal. The data is shaky at best and false at worst. Plus, the cost of the program is unreasonable—$50 to $500 for each visit. Let’s say you schedule 10 visits a month for a year. Using the average cost ($275), you’re looking at $33,000 per year. If you invested that same money into your employees and training, you’d have better results.